LAFAYETTE, La. – Authorities here Friday identified the gunman in a shooting at a theater the evening before as a 59-year-old “drifter” from Alabama. Three people, including the gunman, were killed and nine wounded.
At a news conference Friday, Chief Jim Craft of the Lafayette Police Department identified the suspect as John Russell Houser of Alabama and asked for help in finding out more about him. Houser had lived in Lafayette since July, the chief said.
Craft said police had searched a nearby motel seeking more information about Houser.
The shooting took place shortly before 7:30 p.m. Thursday during a showing of the comedy “Trainwreck” at the Grand Theater here, a 16-screen multiplex on one of the busiest thoroughfares in the city.
Craft said police officers had entered the theater complex while the shooting was going on. When they got inside the theater, they found the gunman dead of a self-inflicted wound, officials said.
Craft said three people had been killed, and the wounded were taken to nearby hospitals. The conditions of the wounded, he said, “range from non-life-threatening to critical.”
The victims ranged in age from teenagers to people in their 60s, the chief said. One victim was in surgery, he said, and “was not doing well.”
Craft said that a handgun had been used in the attack. He said the gunman had had a criminal history, “but it looks like it’s pretty old.” He said it was too soon to know the motive for the shooting.
“He was by himself, he sat by himself, and the first two people he shot were right in front of him,” Craft said.
The investigation inside the theater, on Johnston Street, was briefly halted late Thursday when police found the gunman’s vehicle and found what they said was a “suspicious package” inside. A bomb squad was called, and early Friday, the vehicle’s windows and trunk were blown up. The car was to be towed from the lot.
Officials said a suspicious backpack and other small items found in the theater were being examined. A robot was brought in for use in the investigation. An apartment complex behind the theater was evacuated as a precaution, police said.
Tanya Clark, 36, who was at the theater to see another movie, was at the concession stand with her three children when she saw people run screaming through the lobby.
“I thought it was just a joke,” said her son, Robert Martinez, 17. “People were screaming.”
He said a woman in her 60s ran past them shouting that she had been shot in the leg. He saw blood pouring down her leg, he said.
Clark said she grabbed her 5-year-old daughter and ran, leaving her purse and phone on the concession stand counter.
“I just grabbed her arm,” she said. “In that moment, you don’t think about anything. That’s when you realize that your wallet and phone are not important.”
Paige Bearb, a moviegoer who was in a theater next to the one where the shooting took place, said, “We could hear people screaming next door.”
An alarm soon sounded, and she ran outside.
“As we were running for our car, I could see people with gunshot wounds and one lady bleeding from the leg with a T-shirt wrapped around it,” she said.
Gov. Bobby Jindal visited with some of the victims and their families at a local hospital. He said early Friday that he had spoken with two teachers who had been in the theater together. Both were shot, including one who pulled a fire alarm.
One teacher told him that “her friend literally jumped over her, and in her account, literally saved her life,” he said, adding, “we’re going to hear about other acts of selfless heroism.”
At the request of police, a spokesman for Lafayette General Health, which runs several hospitals in the region, declined to comment Thursday night.
Col. Michael Edmonson, the superintendent of the Louisiana State Police, said there was no information to indicate any relationship between the gunman and any of the victims. He said that roughly 100 people were inside the auditorium at the time of the shooting.